Slow Growth For Italy’s EV Market In Spring Despite Tesla Push

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Originally published on opportunity:energy.

The Italian car market is enjoying a prolonged rebound since the lows of 2022. While most major auto markets in Europe show improving EV numbers, however, the race between internal combustion and electrified powertrains idles in the fourth largest market of the Old Continent.

April low ebb

Official stats for the month of April (see UNRAE) confirm the ongoing strong rebound of the overall market. With over 127,000 registrations, from fewer than 99,000 units in April 2022, car sales grew almost 29% year on year (YoY). Petrol powertrains enjoyed an unusually good month, growing even more than the overall market and thus gaining back market share to reach 29.2%, from 27% a year prior. Diesel powertrains, however, lost steam, stopping at 19.7%, down from 21.1% YoY. Plugless hybrids maintained their lead with 34.8% market share, in line with YoY results.

Battery electric cars fell short of recent performances, following a sparkling March of record registrations. With 3,996 units, BEVs posted a near 30% YoY increase over the fewer than 3,100 registrations reached in April 2022. However, with the rest of the market also growing, this only meant a modest 3.1% market share, matching the previous year’s lackluster performance.

Plug-in hybrids reached 6,055 registrations, consolidating the now long-term trend that sees them prevail over full electric powertrains in Italy. Despite the better figure, this was only a modest 8.6% YoY increase over the 5,573 units reached a year before. PHEVs thus fell slightly in terms of market share, achieving 4.8% — down from 5.6% YoY. Overall plug-in share shrunk as a result of PHEVs’ low growth levels, stopping at 7.9%, compared to the 8.8% level of April 2022. That’s a rather modest result in a very buoyant market, in part due to the post quarter-end dynamics that affect electrified models to a greater degree than the traditional powertrains.

Full electrics’ low monthly numbers came from broadly underwhelming sales levels, with some increasingly obvious exceptions. The top 10 monthly BEV chart for April reflects this trend.

The Tesla Model Y once again came out on top, with 480 units. For the third consecutive month, the upmarket SUV managed to outsell all other BEVs. The relatively low figure came after the near 1,700 units recorded in March’s quarter-end binge, so the large fluctuation was to be expected. What was less expected was the ongoing low volumes obtained by much cheaper BEVs, starting with the Fiat 500e, a distant second at 372 registrations. Far from its previous peaks, the popular Italian city car enjoys ongoing success abroad while domestic sales seem to have subsided consistently below the half-thousand level. In 2021, the average was about twice as much, while the YoY comparison was a worrying 25% decrease. A close third to the 500e, the Smart ForTwo closed the podium with 365 units, the German microcar itself subject to a slow decline from the peaks of the past.

The reasonably priced MG MG4 took fourth place with 228 registrations, showing again increasing interest in the savings-oriented Italian market. A close fifth was the Tesla Model 3, with 224 units, a good result considering the first month of any quarter often shows near zero registrations of Tesla vehicles. France was well represented in the lower part of the chart, with the notable exception of Audi Q4 e-tron, making a new appearance in tenth place.

In a month where no particular model helped move the needle of EV adoption, the main highlights were Tesla’s good performance at the start of the quarter and the quiet rise of the MG4 among Italy’s best selling BEVs.

Tesla pushes BEV market in May

Following April’s low ebb for EVs, May figures for the Italian car market exhibited more of the overall trends that have been characterising recent months, as UNRAE stats show. Total car registrations were up 23.4% YoY from May 2022, with traditional ICE powertrains stable as petrols and diesels reached 28.6% and 19.5% respectively, in line with the previous year (28.4% and 19.4%). HEVs were also stable in their lead, with a commanding 34.7% market share, up from 33.5% YoY.

Full electric cars showed some resurgence, reaching 6,213 registrations, up almost 39% YoY from the fewer than 4,500 units a year prior. At 4.1% market share, this was not a result to celebrate, although better than the 3.6% scored a year before. As we will see, much of this growth was, however, down to a single brand, without which the BEV trend would appear significantly more grim.

Plug-in hybrids were a surprising exception in May. Not only did they not grow on par with other powertrains, but they actually shrank almost 6% YoY. With 7,056 registrations, PHEVs were still the preferred plug-in option over BEVs, but down over 400 units compared with the same month in 2022. Market share thus stopped at 4.7%, down from 6.1% YoY. What led to such reduction is difficult to say, but likely to be a temporary, logistical hiccup rather than a structural change in market dynamics. Either way, PHEVs’ dip in May affected overall plug-in market share, which went down to 8.8% overall despite BEVs’ decent performance, from 9.7% in May 2022.

May’s BEV decent performance was once again possible thanks to the exploits of few successful models. The monthly top 10 BEV chart clearly illustrates this.

Tesla emerged on top once again, only this time it did it with both of its most popular products. The Model Y took the crown with 727 registrations, maintaining the streak of best selling positions that the popular SUV has gained in recent months. The Model 3 followed closely in second place with 661 units, a strong performance bolstered by the generous price cuts that now see its base version eligible for incentives. To put these results into perspective, Tesla single-handedly captured almost a quarter of the BEV market. The Fiat 500e took third position, reaching 516 registrations, an unremarkable result for what used to be the undisputed queen of Italy’s BEV sales since its debut in late 2020.

Out of this upmarket podium, cheaper models followed, such as the Smart ForTwo and three siblings from Peugeot’s CMP platform. The MG MG4 kept building on recent performances by taking sixth place with 347 units, its best result since its debut. Volkswagen managed to place two of its larger models in the top 10, with the ID.4 and ID.5 closing the chart in ninth and tenth place. A surprising, ongoing absence is that of the more compact VW ID.3, which is struggling to make an impact in Italy while fairing better in other European markets.

Month after month, Italy’s renewed struggle with EV adoption is kept alive by the spearhead of the BEV movement, Tesla. Meanwhile, more affordable models from legacy automakers fight to reach half the figures of the upmarket American brand, despite available incentives. A trend is becoming clear, where Tesla’s aggressive pricing and unmatched value for money poses a direct threat to traditional ICE competition in the higher segments, while electrified offerings in Italy’s traditionally favoured A-, B- and C-segment barely make an impact. It appears that the Italian EV market might need widespread price wars to re-emerge, which may well only happen when the challenge will come from Tesla itself.

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Carlo Ombello

Carlo Ombello is an environmental engineer based in London. He writes about environment, sustainability and green technologies on his blog opportunity:energy.

Carlo Ombello has 72 posts and counting. See all posts by Carlo Ombello